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  Opinion   Edit  06 Oct 2023  AA Edit | Ignoring dam safety norms leads to disaster in the hills

AA Edit | Ignoring dam safety norms leads to disaster in the hills

THE ASIAN AGE.
Published : Oct 7, 2023, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Oct 7, 2023, 12:05 am IST

Landslides and floods are common enough phenomena in ecologically fragile places in the hills during the monsoon season.

Bridges of BRO's project 'Swastik' washed away by flood in Chungthang and Mangan area of North Sikkim, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023. (PTI Photo)
 Bridges of BRO's project 'Swastik' washed away by flood in Chungthang and Mangan area of North Sikkim, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023. (PTI Photo)

The death toll is bound to rise. The fate of people listed as missing is largely unknown as parts of Sikkim limp forward after being hit by a devastating natural calamity of a flash flood in the Teesta river basin following a glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) in the Lhonak Lake, caused essentially by heavy rain, with an earthquake possibly contributing to a deadly cocktail of disastrous factors.

This is, however, a catastrophe to which human life had contributed far too recklessly over decades. For years, experts have been saying that the largest hydroelectric dam of Sikkim generating 1,200 MW was an open invitation to a debacle. The need to power up people’s lives in accommodating a rising population has led to such cavalier methods of building dams in the Himalayan region.

Landslides and floods are common enough phenomena in ecologically fragile places in the hills during the monsoon season. They are far more likely to recur as global warming due to climate change keeps contributing to faster rates of the melting of glaciers. Despite the known risks, the blueprint for more hydroelectric dams only keeps expanding.

Such is the lack of concern for public safety in the country that playing with lives, particularly of those whose lot is to live downstream, is not considered much of a risk. On the anvil are plans to double hydroelectric dam output to around 70,000 MW by the end of this decade.

Go figure how an apocalyptic scenario becomes possible as at least one study says that over 20 per cent of nearly 180 dams built close to Himalayan glaciers could be destroyed if glacial lakes burst. Scientists have been handing out regular warnings about building in geologically vulnerable areas, but engineers follow administrative orders despite the hazards they may face in construction.

How dangerous this quest for electricity can prove is illustrated by the scale of devastation suffered by three districts as water carried everything before it, including the slush that has overwhelmed the infrastructure and living spaces even as bridges have been washed away, cutting off entire villages and routes out of the valley like highways.

After every calamity like this, it is customary to recount how gallant the rescue forces were despite difficult climatic conditions, how empathetic the administration is as relief camps are numbered and the refugees in them counted, how the Centre reaches out a helping hand with disaster funds, etc., even as state governments spell out the quantum of compensation for lives lost and comment on what they will be doing to help in the recovery.

People are learning to live with even the unintended consequences of dangerous planning and building. Some died as the floods carried away the paraphernalia from Army depots, including weapons and ammunition like mortar shells, a few of which exploded to take lives and, in the process, added to the misery.

What the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim suffered in the monsoon season of 2023 held various lessons in where we stand in terms of having overexploited ecologically sensitive hills in supporting local population plus hordes of seasonal tourists. What we learn from them might help in mitigation efforts as well as how to act to save the hills and its people from such disasters.

Tags: aa edit, sikkim, himachal pradesh